Dogs may be our best friends, but unfortunately dog bites still happen, and not just with “other people’s” dogs.
The initial reactions when a dog bites someone can range from humor to shock or panic. You must act swiftly to prevent the escalation of the incident and avoid liability.
It’s important that you know what to do if your dog bites someone, not only to care for the bite victim and manage your dog, but also to minimize legal exposure.
Remember, dogs of all breeds can bite, and that includes your dog.
So let’s look at the ways to respond when your dog bites someone.
What To Do When Your Dog Bites
You’re likely to be worried and upset if your dog bites someone. You want to act in a manner that shows concern for the victim and your dog. While at the scene, you should remain calm but act fast.
Follow these steps upon learning that your dog has bitten someone.
Stay Calm and Isolate Your Dog from the Bite Victim
A dog bite situation can be highly charged, and the last thing you want is for your dog to bite again. Getting angry and yelling or arguing can cause your dog to remain worked up and bite again.
Make sure your dog is leashed and isolated (in a car, the house, tied to a fence away from people) so you can tend to the victim without worrying about the dog.
Because your dog has just bitten someone and you could possibly be liable legally, do your best to be kind, reasonable, fair, and sympathetic to the bite victim, even if you feel they unfairly provoked your dog.
Offering to pay the victim’s medical expenses is something to consider as it shows good faith and your dog will likely be considered responsible. Most people have medical insurance, so the costs will usually consist of copays and deductibles, etc.
Anything that keeps lawyers and potential lawsuits out of the equation is recommended.
Exchange Contact Info
Make sure you share your contact info with the bite victim. You will also want to get the contact info for any witnesses to the bite, as they could be helpful if legal action is taken. Try to do this before any witnesses leave the scene.
Even if the bite is minor, you want to have the victim’s contact info so you can later provide your dog’s rabies vaccines info to assure them they are not at risk of rabies.
Taking pictures and/or video of the scene, including the bite, can sometimes be helpful later, but be mindful that the victim has just been bit and your priority should be to help them, not document the scene for a potential legal defense.
Figure Out How Severe the Bite Is
The best way to determine the severity of a dog bite is to have a doctor examine the patient. However, there are apparent signs that could enable you to tell the level of seriousness of a dog bite even before taking the victim to the hospital.
An infection of the wound is a sign that the dog bite is severe. You can tell that the victim’s injury is infected if they have a fever, radiating pain, noticeable tenderness, swelling, and redness.
A dog bite might be so severe that it breaks the victim’s bone. Bone breakage requires urgent treatment to prevent future mobility limitations.
A deep wound is a clear sign of a severe dog bite. It’s more likely to impact the victim’s bones and nerves. Treatment is essential to promote healing while preventing further infection.
Food Remnants or Debris in the Wound
Any food, debris, or other stray object left in the puncture wound increases the infection risk significantly. Such requires wound cleansing to reduce the likelihood of infection.
Stinging, Tingling, or Numbness
A strange feeling of numbness known as neuropraxia indicates something isn’t right. Numbness may be a sign of compressed nerves or nervous system damage.
If the victim finds it difficult to move the affected limbs, it’s a clear sign they’ve suffered a severe bite. This mobility problem may point to damage to bones and nerves.
Bleeding is an immediate concern following a dog bite. It requires immediate first aid administration followed by urgent treatment.
Administer First Aid if Necessary
Administering first aid is necessary to contain the situation as you seek medical attention. The severity of the bite determines the type of first aid you need to consider.
If the biting didn’t break the victim’s skin, you should clean the affected area with warm water and soap before applying an antibacterial lotion.
If the skin is broken, you should clean the wound puncture with water and soap and then gently press the wound to make it bleed a little more. This extra amount of bleeding helps to flush out germs.
If the wound puncture is bleeding profusely, apply a clean piece of cloth to it and gently press down to control the bleeding. Subsequently, apply an antibacterial lotion and cover it with a sterile bandage.
Offer to Help the Bite Victim Seek Medical Attention
Seeking a doctor’s intervention if the victim shows any symptoms of a severe bite is necessary. Take the patient to the hospital if the bite:
- Leaks fluid or pus
- Looks inflamed, swollen, or red
- Causes loss of function, such as inability to bend limbs
- Exposes muscles, tendons, or bone
- Causes intense pain
- Doesn’t stop bleeding
Make sure that you inform the victim if your dog hasn’t received a rabies vaccine at the recommended interval as this could pose serious health consequences.
Contact an Attorney
If the dog bite victim opts for legal redress, things might be a little rocky on your side as the dog owner. Contacting your lawyer in time will enable you to understand the legal requirements on your part.
A reasonable dog bite attorney can tell you:
- The possible monetary and legal consequences of your dog bite case
- The types of defenses available for a dog bite case
- The potential extent of your liability
- Any legal claim at your disposal
Call Your Insurance Agent
Depending on your homeowners or renters insurance policy as well as where the bite occurred, you may have coverage for dog bites. This could reimburse the victim for damages and medical costs.
Be aware that notifying your insurance company that your dog bit someone if you aren’t going to make a claim may raise a red flag of your dog’s potential risk.
Discuss the Bite Incident as Little as Possible
This is typical legal advice, but there’s value in it. Try not to discuss the incident with people, or give any more details than you absolutely have to give. You don’t want it to be used against you later.
Be honest and don’t lie, but also don’t offer any information that isn’t necessary, such as your dog’s bite history.
Preventing Future Bites
Even the sweetest, fuzziest, and cuddliest pup can bite when provoked. From actual dog attacks to nips to bites, dog bites are a serious problem that needs prevention rather than cure.
The reality of the situation is that your dog is now considered dangerous based on their prior behavior. It is your responsibility to determine the best course for preventing this behavior from happening again.
Sometimes, depending on the severity of the bite and the disposition of the dog, drastic measures must be taken, and you should be willing to look at the situation objectively. A dog bite can alter a person’s life forever, and you never want to be responsible for such consequences.
Here are some things you need to observe to prevent your dog from biting people in the future.
Err on the Safe Side
As a dog owner, you should beware of common triggers of dog aggression.
- Fireworks and appliances
- Crowds and loud noises like wind and thunder
- Unfamiliar places
- Unexpected touching
- Unusual costumes or attire
- Approach by strangers
- Approach by unfamiliar dogs
- Sickness, pain, or injury
Avoid exposing your dog to the above triggers as much as possible, and always leave your dog at home if they usually panic or become stressed in public.
Alternatively, you can help your dog deal with anxiety by working with a qualified behavior trainer to train your dog.
Avoid Waiting Until a Serious Incident Happens
Seek professional help from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist if you notice your dog’s aggressiveness toward strangers. You don’t have to wait until an injury occurs for you to take this action.
None of us want to believe that our sweet pup is a menace to society, but it’s important to take their behavior seriously to avoid further, potentially even worse harm to others.
Proper Dog Supervision
Watch your dogs outdoors, even if your yard is fenced. Never let your dog roam alone.
Consider Taking Your Dog to Reward-Based Training Classes
The earlier you take your pup to reward-based training, the better. You should begin taking your puppy to training classes as early as eight weeks.
When the dogs get early training, the quality of their social interaction with humans is enhanced. The improved training will also help you control your dog, particularly when outside.
Socialize Your Dog
Socialization is part of responsible dog ownership. Well-socialized dogs become trustworthy and enjoyable human companions. On the contrary, most triggers quickly frighten under-socialized dogs; hence, they have higher chances of aggression and biting.
Ensure Your Pet is Healthy
Take your pup for all required vaccinations against rabies, distemper combo, adenovirus, and other preventable diseases. Also, always check your dog’s health and ensure they are doing well to avoid aggression related to illness.
What Causes Dog Bites?
Dogs bite for a reason, and when they do so, something has triggered them. Most dogs have a high tolerance for annoying human behaviors. They’ll usually calmly attempt to disengage from unpleasant human actions.
However, they often have a threshold where people cross a line, and any further push from humans will likely result in a bite.
Here are some reasons why dogs bite:
Injury and Illnesses
Dogs that aren’t feeling well are easily irritated by the slightest provocation. At such a point, they never want to tolerate an approach or touch, even by their favorite human friends. For instance, a dog with an ear infection may be provoked by a child’s touch to their ear.
Dogs that feel threatened may bite those who approach them. The fear may result from actions you perceive casually, such as noise. Their fear may also result from severe actions, such as abandonment or abuse of the dog.
Running Away From the Dog
An individual running away from a dog, even if they’re playing, may trigger the dog to bite. While the dog might do this as part of the fun, the act may slowly become aggressive as their natural prey drive kicks in.
Startling a Dog
Startling a dog either by waking them up from sleep or a child suddenly approaching them from behind may provoke them to bite. If you hurt a dog by accident, for instance, by pushing on its sore hips, it may also get provoked, and it can bite you.
“Let sleeping dogs lie” is a real thing.
Dogs may bite to defend a pack member, their territory, or themselves. A typical case is when mother dogs fiercely protect their puppies. Any attempt to touch their young ones will trigger them to bite.
Frequently Asked Questions
If my dog has bitten someone, is it more likely to bite again in the future?
It really depends on the circumstances of a bite to predict whether the dog is likely to bite again. The bite might have been the dog’s response to a particular risk situation.
For instance, if the dog was sleeping and someone stepped on their tale, causing them to snap and nip the person, it’s likely a matter of circumstance and not a behavioral pattern.
However, repeat biting is likely if your dog is generally aggressive and you continue to ignore this behavior. Dogs will continue to respond in the same way to triggers unless their behavior is somehow modified.
How long does it take to settle a dog bite case?
Settling a dog bite case may typically take months to years, depending on the complexity of the matter.
If the case is clear-cut and it’s easy to determine the liability, you could settle it outside of court, reducing the time considerably. If the case goes to litigation, a case may drag on past months and into years.
Can a dog be euthanized for biting someone?
Depending on the laws in the particular city or state where a dog bite occurs, euthanasia may be required after a dog bite.
For instance, in California, euthanasia can be required if the dog has rabies, if the dog has bitten at two or more people, or if the dog that has seriously injured someone has previously been raised to fight or as an attack dog.